In an emotional talk with new students and their families during Orientation Weekend, Dave Price ’87 tackled elephants in the room that burden many college newbies and their parents.
“What a cool beginning,” said Ashely Rudolph, a Kinston, North Carolina, resident whose son just transferred to the ILR School from the College of Charleston. “I expected to get lots of figures and formulas.”
Instead, she heard a personal talk that gently confronted fear. First, Price articulated the private worries of many 18-year-olds: What if I don’t make friends? What if I am overwhelmed by academic work? How do I handle that moment when my family says goodbye?
Thirty-one years ago, Price was in their shoes.
“This is the first step of being your own person … [but] you don’t know who to be,” he told students at the annual ILR Dean’s Welcome event, held in Uris Hall Aug. 23, the morning after most new students had arrived on campus.
The audience erupted with laughter many times at Price’s stories, spliced in among serious messages.
Price said that freshman year, he felt awkward with girls, gained 40 pounds, preferred bowling to mingling and bombed a few courses. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
One night, he said, he sobbed, thinking, “I bit off more than I can chew.”
“You will cry here,” he told students. “That’s OK. Everything is not perfect, and you are not perfect. A lot of you got in here because you were at the very top” of high school classes, he said. “Then, it reverses. You gotta give it time, and there’s no special amount of time.”
Lots of schools attract smart people, but Cornell attracts “good, smart people, nice people,” Price said. “You are about to meet the people who will walk with you for the rest of your life.”
At the ILR School, those people include peers, faculty, alumni and administrators – “an endless source of people willing to invest in you,” Price said in an interview the day before his talk. “There’s a constant circle of people who care.
“I love this school for all I learned here academically, for professors who gave of their time and for administrators, who are often the unsung heroes, who made everything good so much better.”
The late Ginny Freeman, ILR’s registrar for decades, remains a hero to Price. Panicked, he first went to her after being placed on academic probation following his freshman year. “Ginny assured me that with focus, hard work and maturity, I could move beyond that,” he recalled.
Freeman and Price became close friends. Price kept in touch, with visits and more than 150 postcards from his subsequent travels around the world as a journalist. Shortly before her death from cancer in 2010, they had lunch.
“Ginny saw beyond a student ID and took a young kid who wasn’t sure of his place here and took it upon herself to make sure I felt like I belonged and helped me thrive,” he said.
A human resources professional who gave up a job at Pepsi to take a crack at television, Price now shuttles between New York and Hollywood developing television programming. For years, he reported weather and news for “The Early Show” on CBS.
At the Uris Hall talk, Price illustrated the deep bonds that he developed at Cornell through stories about his three closest friends, each of whom he met at Cornell.
In one, Price described how devastated he was when CBS fired him and the rest of his on-air team. He asked the Uris audience to guess who was waiting outside the studio to comfort him as he left for the final time: “It was my best friend.”
With that, he surprised students and parents by introducing David “D.L.” Resell ’87, sitting in the audience with two of Price’s other closest Cornell friends, Gabe Boyar ’87 and Dave Andrade ’87. The audience gave them a standing ovation.
Price asked his friends to travel to Cornell for the talk to help him drive home the value of the Cornell experience and the importance of developing friendships. Price has been delivering the welcome talk for more than 10 years as a way of giving back.
“This is the beginning of the most memorable period of your life,” he said. “Embrace it. Don’t let it be clouded by anxiety. Set forth with a healthy attitude so that 31 years from now, you can come back here with people who mean as much to you as these guys do to me.”
Mary Catt is assistant director of communications for the ILR School.